Before I begin, please take out some time to watch this wonderful TED video from Nicholas Christakis about how social networks (many more besides the modern digital ones) can be used to predict epidemics.
The speaker makes an argument that elements in the social networks are connected by different kinds of relationships and the network operates on influence. When statistically mapped, they tend to follow a certain pattern. The pattern qualifies that people with low degree of social influence tend to be on the periphery of the network with lesser number of connections and people towards the center of the network tend to have higher number of connections and consequentially, a higher degree of influence. Please note that the resulting figure makes sense but isn’t geometrically elegant.
The people with higher nodal influence may be called “central individuals” who tend to adopt ideas earlier than the mass. Such social structures can be used to predict epidemics by tracking these central individuals. The concept is surely agreeable and useful, but more importantly, this technique is efficient and low cost.
So what does it mean for a digital marketer? Or a social media marketer for that matter?
Let us think in terms of the target audience. It means that when a social media campaign or a promotion starts, these central individuals are the once who will adopt it first. Shouldn’t we design the campaign to impress them initially? The target audience now changes to a few number of such nodal influencers from the traditional mass.
Social media marketers ought to focus not on the mass but on those who influence the mass. Pareto principle will apply here also. 20 % of people will hold 80% of the influence. So, while starting the campaign, the audience is that 20% and later it becomes 80%. The influence is non linear. Hence marketing should also be non linear. Thus, as a marketer, I would spend 80% of my marketing budget to influence these 20% of the central individuals.
This is much greater efficiency with a fixed budget constraint as far as social media marketing is concerned and marketers may be able to reduce the overall marketing budget as well.
The question is how will you map the social network to identify these high influence nodes? How will you understand the structure of the networks?